Tom McDonald: Case Study

at National Audit Office


My work at the National Audit Office had been throwing up questions about the measurement and evaluation of “hidden” public policy problems facing government, such as illegal migration and certain crime types. I could see that there were some real challenges involved but I also had a suspicion that some of these issues might not be as “hidden” as they first seemed. When I first found out about the CSaP Fellowship, I was excited by the idea that I could develop some of the thoughts my day-to-day work had provoked into an approach that was more rigorous and better informed by the research of many different academics.

I was immediately grateful that CSaP were able to arrange such a diverse group of people for me to talk to, ranging from experts in the fields I was already interested in, to specialists in other areas who expanded my horizons. It seems invidious to single out a few people, when all the conversations were stimulating and worthwhile, but I was particularly struck by the deep insights of Dr Noémie Bouhana and Dr Paolo Campana in their respective fields; and Professor Jason Sharman and Dr Anna Alexandrova expanded my view of what was possible.

These discussions helped change my thinking in two ways during the course of my Fellowship. Firstly, they helped me settle on a spectrum of methodological approaches that would work in specific sectors or settings. This was what I had hoped for in applying for the Fellowship. Secondly, and more surprisingly, my visits helped re-configure the conceptual approach I had taken, making me think much more about the communication of uncertainty alongside the possible work to measure it.

I was extremely grateful to be able to visit Cambridge either side of the pandemic. I’m sure the conversations were richer in person and I’m grateful to all the participating academics who were happy to enter into the spirit of these somewhat freeform discussions. I hope that my coming to the end of my Fellowship will not mean the end of my engagement with CSaP or the people I have met through it as I think about other ways in which our work might be brought together for mutual benefit.

November 2021